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Poverty Of Accused Is Not A Mitigating Factor While Awarding Punishment Under NDPS Act: Supreme Court

LIVELAW NEWS NETWORK
6 April 2021 2:49 PM GMT
Poverty Of Accused Is Not A Mitigating Factor While Awarding Punishment Under NDPS Act: Supreme Court
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Merely because the accused is a poor man and/or a carrier and/or is a sole bread earner cannot be such mitigating circumstances in favour of the accused while awarding the sentence/punishment in the case of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, the Supreme Court observed.The bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah observed that while striking balance between the...

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Merely because the accused is a poor man and/or a carrier and/or is a sole bread earner cannot be such mitigating circumstances in favour of the accused while awarding the sentence/punishment in the case of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, the Supreme Court observed.

The bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah observed that while striking balance between the mitigating and aggravating circumstances, public interest, impact on the society as a whole will always be tilt in favour of the suitable higher punishment. 

In this case, the accused was found to be in possession of 1 kg heroin which is four times more than the minimum of commercial quantity.  The Special Court convicted the accused for the offence punishable under Section 21 of the Act and sentenced him to undergo 15 years R.I. and to pay a fine of Rs.2 Lakhs and in default of payment of fine, to further undergo one year R.I. As the High Court dismissed his appeal, the accused approached the Apex court. Upholding the conviction and sentence imposed, the Apex Court bench observed that quantity of narcotic substance recovered is a relevant factor that can be taken into account for imposing higher than the minimum punishment under NDPS Act.

In appeal, it was contended that the mitigating circumstances are more in favour of the accused and therefore in the facts and circumstances of the case the punishment/sentence higher than the minimum provided under the Act is not warranted. It was submitted that the accused is a poor man and only bread winner of the family. To address this contention, the bench referred to the history of NDPS Act and observed:

Before the NDPS Act 1965 was enacted, the statutory control over narcotic drugs was exercised in India through number of Central and State enactments viz. — The Opium Act, 1857, (b) the Opium Act, 1878 and (c) The Dangerous Drugs Act, 1930. However, with the passage of time and developments in the field of illicit drug traffic and drug abuse at national and international level it was noticed and found that (i) The scheme of penalties under the aforesaid ACTS was not sufficiently deterrent to meet the challenge of well- 15 organized gangs of smugglers; (ii) The country has for the last few years been increasingly facing the problem of transit traffic of drugs coming mainly from the neighboring countries and destined mainly to Western countries; (iii) During recent years new drugs of addiction which have come to be known as psychotropic substances have appeared on the scene and posed serious problems to national governments. Therefore with a view to overcome the aforestated deficiencies the NDPS Act, 1985 came to be enacted. That thereafter to check the menace of dangerous drugs flooding the market, Section 37 of the Act came to be amended and it has been provided that the accused of an offence under the Act shall not be released on bail during trial unless the mandatory conditions provided in Section 37 are satisfied.

The court observed that these crimes have a deadly impact on the society as a whole and thus while awarding the sentence/punishment in case of NDPS Act, the interest of the society as a whole is also required to be taken in consideration. While dismissing appeal, the bench said:

it should be borne in mind that in a murder case, the accused commits murder of one or two persons, while those persons who are dealing in narcotic drugs are instruments in causing death or in inflicting death blow to number of innocent young  victims who are vulnerable; it cause deleterious effects and deadly impact on the society; they are hazard to the society. Organized activities of the underworld and the clandestine smuggling of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances into this country and illegal trafficking in such drugs and substances shall lay to drug addiction among a sizeable section of the public, particularly the adolescents and students of both sexes and the menace has assumed serious and alarming proportions in the recent years. Therefore, it has a deadly impact on the society as a whole. Therefore, while awarding the sentence/punishment in case of NDPS Act, the interest of the society as a whole is also required to be taken in consideration. Therefore, while striking balance between the mitigating and aggravating circumstances, public interest, impact on the society as a whole will always be tilt in favour of the suitable higher punishment. Therefore, merely because the accused is a poor man and/or a carrier and/or is a sole bread earner cannot be such mitigating circumstances in favour of the accused while awarding the sentence/punishment in the case of NDPS Act. Even otherwise, in the present case, the Special Court, as observed hereinabove has taken into consideration the submission on behalf of the accused that he is a poor person; that he is sole bread earner, that it 17 is his first offence, while not imposing the maximum punishment of 20 years R.I and imposing the punishment of 15 years R.I. only.



Case: Gurdev Singh vs. State of Punjab [CrA 375 OF 2021]
Coram: Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah
Citation: LL 2021 SC 196

Click here to Download/Read Judgment




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